TRAVEL agents are housing tourists in some unlikely places in the face of an acute hotel room shortage.
Beachside chalets, budget hotels in red-light areas and Seletar - nothing is being ruled out as possible lodgings. Some agencies even put up guests in hotels across the Causeway after a day of sightseeing.
More than a third of the 35 travel agents The Sunday Times contacted admitted to doing this.
In the first half of this year, Singapore received 4.9 million tourists, 5.2 per cent up from last year.
Singapore Tourism Board (STB) figures show that the estimated 37,000 hotel rooms here enjoyed an average occupancy rate of 86 per cent last month.
Three-star hotels such as the Park View, Allson and Bayview confirmed that they have been swamped with guests since March.
"Our occupancy rates are at an average of 95 to 96 per cent daily," said Bayview reservations officer Wan Poh Wan. Travel GSH's Mr Chai Yin usually houses guests in three- to four-star hotels such as Royal and Peninsula but now has to look elsewhere.
This month, he has put up three groups at NTUC's Costa Sands Resorts. These chalets were not sufficient. He even had to turn away groups of tourists from Vietnam, China and Taiwan.
Ms Tan Siew Liang, 24, of LC Travel Planners, is equally strapped: "The situation is really bad. Even if we try booking up to three months in advance, the hotels have no rooms."
Some agents like Ms Joycelyn Su, senior manager at CTC Holidays, fear tourists could come away with a bad impression of Singapore if they are dumped in fleapits.
She opts to send guests to four-star hotels in Johor and Batam but that is inconvenient for tourists and the agency, with extra transport and immigration logistics to contend with.
Even corporate clients here on business, and religious groups in town for conferences and corporate retreats, can struggle for a room for the night.
If the shortage persists, CTC Holidays will consider using the dormitory-style housing of the Boy's Brigade Campsite in the Havelock Road area, Ms Su said.
The dorm beds may be preferred to what some tour guides like Mr Jack Chia, 46, have had to resort to.
His family tour groups have been put up at hotels in red-light district areas like Geylang and Joo Chiat, much to his embarrassment.
"Female tourists are always very uncomfortable about this, although they know it is not our fault," said Mr Chia. China tourist Leng Ruyi, 45, was disappointed with her accommodation at the Orientus Resort Singapore, tucked away in the old Seletar East Camp military airbase.
She found the room cramped and unpleasant paint fumes lingered through the night.
The STB is "optimistic" that a better match between supply and demand will be seen in three to four years with new hotels coming onstream.
But merchant bank Merrill Lynch forecasts that although demand in 2015 will reach 62,100 rooms a day, the supply will be 59,220 rooms.
Additional reporting by Teh Shi Ning, Brian Higgs and David Lee